Updated: Feb 19
The idea of tincturing an herb in your home kitchen may seem complicated at first, but I'm here to let you in on a few methods that will make it feel easy and accessible. Let's start with the basics. What exactly is a tincture and how will it benefit you? A tincture, in my own words, is an extraction of a particular amount of an herb into a solvent that when extracted over time yields to a potent infusion of plant constituents. For many plants, tinctures capture the vital properties that otherwise would be difficult to ingest through tea, syrup, or tisane. Tinctures are also a faster method of receiving your herbal medicine. For example, a Valerian Root tincture taken during a panic attack, bout of acute pain, or sleeplessness would ease the nervous system much faster than drinking the tea. It delivers the medicine in a concentrated and convenient manner.
When making a tincture, there are quite a few menstruums or solvents you can choose from. The more "popular" method of tincturing is to use an alcohol base ranging from 80 to 190 proof. The proofs refer to the percentage of alcohol in any quantity by volume. 80 proof alcohol such as Vodka, Gin or Rum is 40% alcohol meaning they extract less constituent than grain alcohol which is 85% alcohol (easy way to do this is to divide the proof in half).
Alcohol Free Solvents
There are a few notable alcohol free solvents. These consist of oxymel tinctures, apple cider vinegar, and vegetable glycerin. Oxymel tinctures are made with both apple cider vinegar and honey. Apple cider vinegar is a preserving solvent that has an ability to extract constituents from plants at a lower rate than alcohol. Similarly, vegetable glycerin is a solvent that has a palatable taste and a particular chemical make up that enhances extraction of very mucilaginous roots and barks. It also has a lower ability to extract compared to alcohol, however, you can add a percentage of grain alcohol to enhance extraction of plants with a high water content while still preserving the pleasant taste.
Formulating A "Folk" Tincture
When we formulate a folk tincture, we are using methods that have existed across civilizations and indigenous societies for centuries. This is the intuitive or non-measuring method. I like to use the word "intuitive" as it demonstrates a technique that takes you out the science/outer cortex of the brain into the feeling body. We are using the senses over an empirical method. It provides a moment to reflect on these ancestral and indigenous ways, honor them, and give deep gratitude and thanks.
The steps in this process are very simple.
Collect your herb (preferably fresh but can be dried).
Fill a glass jar (any size will do, depending on how much tincture you're looking to make) with your herb.
Pour your solvent of choice into the jar until the solvent reaches a few centimeters above the plant material.
Label your jar with its contents and the date.
Let sit in a cool, dry place for at least 3 to 4 weeks.
Decant or strain herbs using a metal mesh strainer or cheese cloth. Compost plant material if possible.
Add decanting date to your jar label. Keep the jar of medicine in a cool dry place and bottle tincture as needed.
Formulating Your Tincture, The Empirical Method
The method for extracting the most medicine from your herbs comes with a little extra work and math but not to worry, the process can be fun and stretches our scientific minds. To begin you want to consider your menstruum. This can be taken into account when formulating a folk tincture as well. When choosing your menstruum, you want to consider the constituents or chemical properties of the plant. For example, mint plants are high in water content, therefore are extracted better in alcohol or apple cider vinegar. Though this is true, I often use vegetable glycerin as my main menstruum and will usually add around 20% grain alcohol to further the tinctures potency.
The first step is to obtain your materials. If you have access to fresh herbs or plant material, that is always preferred, however, dried plant material can also be used. The example I'll be using today is fresh Echinacea Root. Echinacea is a potent immune stimulating herb that supports many aspects of our well-being. It is high in inulin, a plant constituent that supports our microbiome as a prebiotic fiber. The inulin also hold immune supporting activity, as when we support the wellness of our gut, we support the overall health of all our body systems. Echinacea also works as an "alterative" which means it cleanses the blood.
When we chew on an Echinacea Root or take a few drops of the tincture, we may notice a tingling sensation. This tingling is associated with the t-cell (immune cell) activation that is occurring. When we have this organoleptic experience, it indicates that our herb or tincture is effective.
If you are obtaining fresh herbs, the first step is to gently remove any access dirt and chop them finely. Using a kitchen knife and cutting board during this process will suffice. The next step is to weigh your herbs using grams measurement. I suggest a kitchen scale. Here are some good examples that are cost effective! While weighing your herbs, you will likely need a jar, bowl or some other container for consolidation. Make sure to tare the empty container before adding your herbs! After you've obtained the weight in grams, you will calculate what is called a grams to milliliters conversion.
Determining the Grams to Milliliters Conversion
If the above photo, you will see that the label of Echinacea Root tincture has a number (143g) times (x) 3. The weight of the roots came out to 143 grams and I multiplied that by 3 to get 429 ml menstruum. Depending on the consistency and characteristics of your plant material, you will multiply the weight of your herb between 3 to 8 to obtain the amount of menstruum needed. In an ideal world, we'd always want 1 part of our plant material to 1 part of the solvent liquid it is being extracted into. Unfortunately, plant material will absorb the solvent liquid to an extent making 1:1 ratios quite difficult to obtain. A 1:3 ratio is ideal as it provides ample space for plant constituents to be extracted. Sometimes, you need to increase the ratio to 1:8 if the plant material is fluffy or robust in nature. When determining the solvent volume, I use a beaker which allows for the most accurate measurements.
Labeling, Straining and Bottling Your Tincture
Now that you have performed the mathematics associated with formulating your tincture, make sure that you write all the imperative information on the label of your jar. You will always want to scribe the following:
The common name of the plant and whether it is fresh or dried
The medium (i.e oxymel, alcohol tincture, vinegar infusion, glycerite, etc.)
The date (with decanted/strained date added to label later)
The amount in grams of the herb as well as the amount of menstruum in milliliters and math associated (i.e # in g x # = _ml)
Also make sure to add ALL menstruums used in formulating your tincture. The example above only includes grain alcohol, however, if I added any extra water to the tincture that % would be accounted for on the label.
A word on including the alcohol %
Many tincture labels will include the % of alcohol in the tincture. I don't typically add this unless I am making a glycerite (note that I add a small % of grain alcohol to most glycerites to improve extraction). Alcohol % could be anywhere between 20% (using alcohol in combination with water) up to 85% if using grain alcohol when tincturing a dried herb. For the sake of understanding it's purpose, we can say that the alcohol % of my Echinacea Root tincture is around 70% to account for %15 water extracted from the fresh herb.
Decanting Your Tincture
Once the tincture is ready to be decanted or strained (typically after 3 to 4 weeks) you do so by pouring the solvent over a mesh strainer or a cheese cloth. The strainer or cheesecloth helps to collect all or most of the loose herb parts you don't want in your tincture bottle.
After straining the herbs from the solvent, you want to properly dispose of the herbal parts. If possible, compost them. If you have access to a backyard or wooded area, you can begin a compost pile. If not, try asking friends or family if they have a composting mechanism! Of course, if you must throw away that is also acceptable. You can feed plant parts to your chickens or animals as well.
When you have successfully decanted your tincture, you can keep your bulk menstruum within a jar in a cool, dry, dark place with the label included. When you go to bottle your tincture, a funnel might be beneficial for making sure you don't lose product.
After you've bottled your tincture, you will want to create a separate label for it. Below, you will see a photo of what an acceptable label may look like. When you are making medicine for yourself and want to make a simple label, just naming the herb itself for easy reference should suffice. However, if you want to keep your tincture label nuanced or if you're making medicine for others, a more in-depth label may be helpful.
Make sure to accurately label the tincture bottle with the plant and its parts used. This will go at the top of the label. You can also include the scientific name if you'd like. Below the name of the plant, include the following.
Ratio of plant parts to solvent parts
Optional: % of alcohol
Optional: amount in grams of plant material
I wrote the amount in grams of the entire tincture on this particular bottle. To determine this for the 2 oz bottle I used you would take the total amount of menstruum and divide by the 2 oz bottle amount. Then you would take the total amount in grams (143 for reference) and divide by that number. The ratio helps to determine the strength of the product. The date lets you keep track of how long you've had your tincture.
Determining Dosage and Using Your Tincture
Now that you have your tincture bottle in the apothecary ready for use, you may wonder how and when to use it. The answer is that it varies completely upon the type of tincture and what is going on in your body. This requires research on the herb and what you are trying to accomplish internally. You would ingest Echinacea Root tincture for an anti-viral, anti-microbial, and immune stimulating protocol. In general, most tinctures will suggest a dosage of 1ml (about 20 drops) a few times per day. For the Echinacea, I would suggest ingesting a dropper full twice a day when actively sick. If you are looking to support the immune system during a transition, stressful time, or when encountered with a sick person, I recommend 1 dropper full once a day. I also suggest limiting the intake for no more than 2 weeks in order to not overstimulate the immune system.
Carrying the Practice Into Your Space
My hope is that you can assimilate these practices into beginning your herbal tincture journey! Whether you want to experiment with different types of menstruums, herbs, or switch between folk/empirical methods it is all an honored practice. Please let me know in the comments if you have further questions! Happy Tincturing!